Published December 08, 2002
NEW YORK – Disarming Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his regime is a "central commitment" of the war on terror, President Bush said Saturday.
Sunday is the deadline for Saddam to provide proof to the United Nations and the international community that he's telling the truth when he promises that his government has no weapons of mass destruction.
Although Saddam presented thousands of pages of documents to reporters Saturday, supposedly showing he has no such weapons, the Bush administration isn't convinced. But the White House has thus far refused to provide solid proof publicly that Saddam isn't living up to his word.
"Saddam Hussein has been under a duty to disarm for more than a decade," Bush said in his radio address Saturday. "Yet he has consistently and systematically violated that obligation and undermined U.N. inspections. And he only admitted to a massive biological weapons program after being confronted with the evidence."
The United States has made no mystery about the fact it is ready and willing to go to war with Iraq to oust its dictator if it finds even a trace of nuclear, biological or chemical weaponry that has not been accounted for.
"Saddam Hussein will fully disarm himself of weapons of mass destruction, and if he does not," Bush said, "American will lead a coalition to disarm him."
Bush stressed the important job the U.N. weapons inspectors have in making sure various weapons sites throughout Iraq are free of harmful arms. The United States has promised protection to Iraqi scientists who aid inspectors in their searches.
But the inspections team has found nothing so far to call Saddam a liar.
"It is not enough for Iraq to merely open doors for inspectors," Bush said. "Compliance means bringing all requested information and evidence out into full view, to show that Iraq has abandoned the deceptions of the last decade.
"Any act of delay or defiance will prove that Saddam Hussein has not adopted the path of compliance, and has rejected the path of peace."
Bush said that so far, there has been no "fundamental shift in practice and attitude that the world is demanding" from Iraq and Saddam. He said Iraq's correspondence with the United Nation's over the inspections "show that their attitude is grudging and conditional." He also noted that Iraq recently fired on American and British pilots enforcing the U.N. no-fly zone.
The United Nations will take their time poring over the declaration provided by Saddam's government Saturday, detailing the past and present history of activity of the country's weapons of mass destruction, or lack thereof, Bush said.
"The declaration must be credible and accurate and complete, or the Iraqi dictator will have demonstrated to the world once again that he has chosen not to change his behavior," Bush said.
Despite all the pressure on Iraq to own up to its arms program and threats of war, Bush said "war is the last option for confronting threats."
"Yet the temporary peace of denial and looking away from danger would only be a prelude to a broader war and greater horror," he said. "America will confront gathering dangers early."
Meanwhile, Reuters news agency reports that British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Saturday he hoped Iraq's account of its banned weapons was full and factual, but he remained leery that Saddam was genuinely cooperating with U.N. inspectors.
"Let us hope that it's a true and frank account," Blair said before Iraq released its report. "You'll forgive me if, knowing all that I do about Saddam's past record, I remain skeptical."
But Blair said the international community had no right to topple Saddam purely on the grounds that he was a despot.
"The fact that Saddam is a brutal tyrant does not give us any automatic right to seek his overthrow," Blair wrote in London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat. "We cannot rid the world of every barbarous regime. We can only do what international law empowers us to do..."